Ahead of his Final Eliminator bout for the IBF Heavyweight World Title, Filip Hrgovic (14-0, 12 KOs) must first come through his fellow undefeated fighter Zhilei Zhang (24-0-1, 19 KOs). The mastermind behind ‘El Animal’ getting his shot at heavyweight glory is the acclaimed Ronnie Shields.
Shields has worked with some of the biggest and baddest fighters in boxing, with legendary names such as Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield a part of a long list of successful champions. Even the current crop of fighters have gone to pick the brilliant mind of Shields, like the undisputed 154lb champion Jermell Charlo and his brother, the current WBC Middleweight Champion, Jermall Charlo to name but a few.
Now, the 64-year-old American has what he believes to be the future king of division. His vast experiences as a fighter and coach make his word as credible as fact. This is, after all, a man who has such experience as marginally missing out on the Olympic team in the 1970’s, having shared an encounter with the great Sugar Ray Leonard during trials.
“Out of all the fighters I’ve trained, Filip’s right at the top with them,” said Shields. “He is a really good fighter; he knows his way around the ring and when you show him something he picks it up really well. He knows what he must do, and he has shown every attribute it takes to be a top fighter.”
Shields has been alongside Hrgovic every step of the way during a long camp preparing for Zhang. This fight had been scheduled to happen sooner, but the Croatian suffered a personal loss which, understandably, moved the bout to a later date.
Now the fight is finally within touching distance as the clock counts down to fight night on Saturday, with confidence flowing amongst the camp of Hrgovic. For all the suffering, both emotionally and physically, this very moment is where Shields believes ‘El Animal’ is now in peak condition.
“It has been a tough time for him, he’s had to adapt to the fact his father is no longer here. It has taught him a lot, and it has obviously been very painful because he was so close to his father, said Shields. “Filip’s father is with him every single day, and his father wanted him to become heavyweight champion of the world. That is a goal Filip’s set, and he’s not only doing it for himself but his family as well.
“He’s coming into this so well prepared, we all believe he’s in the best shape he has ever been in. It has been a really long camp, and he’s learnt plenty of things throughout that make him confident he’ll win on Saturday night.”
It is common practice for a fighter to have their eyes securely focused on the task at hand. Zhang will be the only name on the mind of Hrgovic, however, you cannot overlook the prospect of who he may face next out of the two main event contenders – Oleksandr Usyk or Anthony Joshua.
Regardless of previous experiences watching ‘AJ’ train, or the dominant record at Cruiserweight and Heavyweight for the current champion Usyk; Shields remains unintimidated by who may be their next opponent so long as Zhang is taken care of.
“Filip has the capabilities to beat anybody who stands in front of him. He’s consistently shown he’s a really good fighter and he fully knows how to handle himself inside of that ring," he said. “The main event is a going to be a great fight. Truthfully, I think it’s up in the air who will come out the winner of this one, but either way it’ll be a great show.”
“It doesn’t which fighter from the main event he fights, I’m confident Filip is going to have the shot he’s been preparing for his whole life to become the heavyweight champion of the world.”